Borderlands 2

September 18, 2012, Author: Ray Willmott

Ah, sequels. They’re both the scariest and most exciting thing, aren’t they?

Borderlands is the most successful new IP in recent memory, so 2K were always going to commission a bigger, badder and better sequel.

Did they get exactly that?

Catch a Riiiiiiiiiiiiide
Borderlands 2 follows the exploits of four new characters: Maya, Zer0, Axton and Salvador. These characters are attempting to follow in the shoes of the famous Vault Hunters from the first game.

The game begins with our new vault hunters taking part in a tournament run by the game’s antagonist, Handsome Jack. Jack encourages the would-be heroes to take part by offering incredibly rare and economically viable loot to the winner. However, what the unsuspecting hunters don’t realise is that Jack has lured them into a trap in an attempt to kill them for his sick amusement.

Fortunately, the Vault Hunter survives with a little help from Claptrap. The little robot offers the wounded and disoriented hunter shelter, but only if he’ll become his ‘minion’. However, as the Vault Hunter rejuvinates, the only mission in mind is one of revenge and a desire to kill Handsome Jack.

The game’s story is 100% improved and what’s more, it’s genuinely funny. As in, laugh out loud, rib-crackingly hilarious. The script is one of the best I’ve seen in any game. Not only is the story coherent and interesting, the characters that take part in it a motley crue of zaniness and have outrageous world-views. Even familiar characters have had a welcome make-over. Claptrap has gone from a flittery, jittery annoyance in Borderlands 1, to the source of overwhelming laughter fits in Borderlands 2.

The game has no qualms in mocking itself. For instance, Claptrap sails around Sanctuary with a song that simply features him beat-boxing, then going “Wub, Wub, Wub, Wub, Wub, Wub”, a blatant jibe at the dub-step début trailer for the game.

Equally, Borderlands 2 isn’t afraid to takes potshots at everything we’ve come to love over the years from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Power Rangers

If you shop anywhere else… I’ll kill you!
Unlike the original, Borderlands 2 has a central hub in place called Sanctuary. It’s there that players will be able to change their outlook, purchase guns, get new shields, store items in a shared-bank, take part in more missions and even re-spec their talent trees. Players will also be able to use fruit machines at Moxxi’s bar. The reels on the machine will dish out different prizes, such as guns, coins and a little something called Eridium.

Eridium comes in the form of purple bars that can be found all over Pandora and can be used to purchase additional backpack space, ammunition capacity and also bank space from a specialist vendor in Sanctuary.

There is also much more development in Borderlands 2. The first game made awesome guns readily from the word ‘go’. In fact, some weapons picked up at the beginning of the game could be used right up to the final boss. Not in Borderlands 2.

The game is much better paced than its predecessor. Now players will be constantly evolving and developing as they progress, and will regularly be considering gun/shield/trinket options after most major missions. Also, players don’t get the full four weapons slots until they’re at least level 20 (the last slot is unlocked after completing a story mission), taking them to around the halfway point of the campaign.

Talent Trees offer a much greater range and style of play. Mixing points between all three is more encouraged, and each tree gives entirely different perspectives. For example, with the Commando, one tree is almost entirely dedicated to his turret, whereas others are focused more on his own abilities, such as health and stamina in last stand. The Talent Trees are better suited to a character class than before.

The challenge system has also had a massive overhaul and introduces Bad Ass Points to the franchise. Each challenge now has ranks and every time a player gains a rank they earn Bad Ass Points. If a sufficient amount of points have been gained, players will exchange points for tokens and be able to permanently upgrade stats such as Weapons, Shield and Health. Be warned, however, these are only good for one use and once redeemed, players cannot change their mind.

There’s also a wider range of weapons. Bajillions, in fact. Uzis unload bulletstorms on enemies, riddling their bodies full of holes. As if that’s not enough, bullets can also still set psychos and bandits alight with fire, poison them, and even frazzle them with electric shocks. This can also apply to weapons as basic as pistols, to something as substantial as an RPG.

Vehicle handling too is vastly improved. It’s still not going to compare to the likes of F1 or DiRT, but drifting and boosting along the wastelands will have hairs standing up on end.

My one criticism has to come with the map. It’s not always clear where players have to go, whether an objective is on the same level as the player or if it’s above/below their position. As it’s so basic, this does present some  frustrations. Generally though, the anxiety fades away as long as players use initiative, trial-and-error and a bit of exploration. The Borderlands 2 story will last around 30 hours, but the side missions can quite easily bolster that up to the 100 hour mark. Beyond with multiple playthroughs.

Home is where the kamikaze is
As I alluded to in my recent interview, the landscape is one area that has seen major refinement in Borderlands 2. My word, does it show.

Borderlands 2 really does have a wide range of set-pieces for players to explore. Sure, there are deep, dark bandit coves and sparse deserts, however, players will also get to explore rundown motels, scrap-heaps, farmyards, ice-capped mountains, and even jungle-like terrain.

They’ll also encounter a rogues gallery of enemies. There’s the usual combination of bullymongs and skags, as well as bandits and thugs, however new enemies are featured, including loot thugs that carry chests on their back (these can be opened after defeating them) and even air-borne buzzard choppers that fire from on high. The environments players find themselves in will always feature enemies wholly appropriate of the habitat.

The heavily modified Unreal Engine 3 still captures that cel-shaded style they’ve come to know and love. However, Borderlands 2 is sleeker, prettier, and even more beautiful to behold.

Dr Zed’s your partner in all medical emergencies
Compelling scripts can be ruined by inappropriate casting. Not here. Gearbox have expertly chosen a sufficient level of zaniness to carry this game forward. From bomb-obsessed thirteen year olds, to pish-posh English road-warriors, Borderlands 2 has, quite literally, everything.

Bandits and Psychos have always brought taunts that antagonise players in Borderlands, but this time, they will really get under their skin. Either that, or make them howl with laughter at how random or out of context their comments seem.

Borderlands even has a surprisingly eloquent score, changing each time players transport between areas, and always remaining superbly in character with the content.

Truly, Gearbox have nailed everything just right.

You talkin’ to me?
Borderlands was a fantastic co-op game. Borderlands 2 is even better. The game has been designed to play with friends, whether it’s in the player’s living room or across the internet. Even if they’re playing split-screen with a friend in their living room and also want to play with someone else on the other side of the world, they can do that. A rare find this generation.

The trading system is greatly improved, enabling players to swap items, or even give their buddy something out of the goodness of their heart. They can also give each other money if, say, one team-mate is desperate to buy a shield but just can’t quite afford it. However, more could have been done to buff this out. For example, a buddy being able to compare their weapon with something in another player’s inventory.

The duelling system has introduced a ‘stakes’ option. Players can put high-profile items on the line and the winner will take it all. This is a great way to decide who should get an ultra-special weapon that is useful to both parties, but neither are feeling particular generous.

Even Last Stand has been improved so your characters are more independent than ever. Kill an enemy and you get a Second Wind. It’s more possible than ever for a character to do exactly that and not have to rely on their team-mate to keep picking them up. However, there is an added incentive in that players earn XP every time they revive a buddy.

The co-op element makes Borderlands 2, an already brilliant game, utterly excellent and completely essential.

You know where this is going. 2K Games have got a serious, sure-fire, Game of the Year winner on their hands.

Gearbox have covered all their bases. They’ve genuinely listened to fan criticism, just as much as they’ve listened to positive feedback. While Borderlands 2 doesn’t have the masterstroke of storytelling of a Bioshock or Mass Effect, it has a script funnier than anything else out there. In fact, its funnier than most Hollywood films I’ve seen in the last five years.

It’s been a long time since I’ve struggled to put a game down. It’s also been a long time since I’ve enjoyed myself so deep into a campaign and felt as refreshed and engaged with it since the moment I first booted it up. This sequel has truly surpassed the original in every conceivable way.

Borderlands 2’s infectious quality and enthusiasm will have you thinking about it long after its closing moments. This is the kick in the ass FPS games have been desperately waiting for.


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